While we don’t normally think of typing on a computer as a dangerous job, the U.S. Department of Labor reports that workers spend 25,000 hours away from work due to repetitive strain injuries, such as using a computer. Part of this could be due to the fact that the average computer user applies two to seven times the necessary force needed to activate a keyboard’s keys, slamming them down, then experiencing a sudden stop.
In order to help cushion these small blows, researchers Alec Peery and Dušan Sorma at Ohio University have been exploring a mechanical keyboard concept with a 3D-printed dampener built in. Testing has been undertaken using the popular Cherry MX switches, with typing simulated by dropping a 150 gram cylinder from 125mm, then measured using an Arduino Uno and force sensing resistor.
This paper is a demonstration of how 3D printing can be used to create a composite (plastic and rubber) keyboard switch that is ergonomically superior to a traditional injection moulded plastic switch. The prototype switch developed in this project aims to reduce impact forces from keyboard use exerted on user’s fingers by “cushioning” the act of bottoming out the switch during a key press. This concept is significant to industry because it aims to reduce overuse injuries caused from work on computer, a portion of the $20 Billion a year owed in worker compensation in the United States. A commercial Cherry MX keyboard switch has been modified through CAD modelling and 3D printing to incorporate damping regions in the lower half of the switch housing. The switch housings were simultaneously 3D printed with plastic and rubber and their force damping properties were tested with an Arduino UNO microcontroller and force sensing resistor resting on the key tops.
The full research paper is available here.